Breckenridge Texan

Jack Lavada Harbison

Jack Lavada Harbison
May 09
05:00 2022

Jack Lavada Harbison, a longtime Stephens County resident, passed away in North Richland Hills on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, at the age of 107. Her graveside memorial service at the Clear Fork Cemetery will begin at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 14, 2022, with JB Sparks officiating.

Jack Harbison was born in Stephens County, Texas, on February 24, 1915, to A.N. Harbison and Emily Hughes Harbison. The couple were married in October of 1903 and lived on their ranch 13 miles north of Breckenridge, Texas, in a large home built by Jack’s father. Jack grew up with five siblings: Hazel, Erma, Vara, Dale, and Bobby. They were an extremely close and happy family.

Jack Harbison was named after her grandfather, Jack W. Hughes, who was born in 1850. Jack Hughes graduated from Baylor University and was a journalist and author of letters and articles published in many publications. He was also a teacher and cattleman. Jack came by her love for reading naturally and always read newspapers daily, even at age 107, staying up to date on the news and politics. Jack’s parents always valued education and kept plenty of reading material for the family. Jack loved to tell this story about when her grandfather came to visit. Her grandfather would purposely not tie his horse, Old Eagle, up so Jack could go find him. When her grandfather was ready to leave, Jack would go fetch Old Eagle, and the show would start. Her grandfather would start hollering for Old Eagle to stay still, Old Eagle would start spinning so he couldn’t mount him, and this would go on for a while. Jack said she would laugh so hard; she would always say, “I was my grandfather’s favorite; after all, I was named for him.”

Some of her favorite memories during her childhood were swimming in the tanks, climbing trees, and roaming on their large farm with her brother, Dale. She and Dale were two years apart in age, and they played together most of the time. They had an old horse, Fred. They loved to play with Fred, climbing all over him and riding him, until finally, when he had enough of them, he would fold his ears back to warn them to leave him alone. Another story she often told was when one day, her dad sent Dale and her to hoe the weeds in a field with rows of crops. She would finish hoeing one row and go to the next. Not Dale — if the next row had too many weeds, he would skip it and go to the next easy row, leaving the weedy ones for Jack. When their dad came back to check on them, he saw what was happening and put a quick stop to it, telling Dale, “from now on, you take the next row!” She and Dale loved playing in the rain and mud, and their mother never scolded them for getting wet and dirty but always had clean clothes waiting for them when they came in and a warm fire if it was cold outside. After school, Jack said her mother always had some fresh, homemade cookies or some special treat waiting for them. She could still remember the sweet smells when they walked into the kitchen. When they were older and Marcia was gone, Dale stopped by every weekend to visit Jack and pick up his fresh, homemade loaf of bread. Jack loved to dote on her brothers.

Jack always spoke of her oldest sister, Hazel, and how she loved to read. When Hazel first married, their mom would worry that Hazel liked reading more than taking care of the house. She could curl up with a book and forget everything, but it turned out she made a wonderful home for her family and her husband, Charlie. Jack recalled that Hazel hosted many family celebrations overflowing with delicious food, and rowdy domino games of “84” were always going on with everyone talking and laughing. Jack said a neighbor commented once, “Those Harbisons know how to have fun; their homes are full of family, joy, and laughter.” Hazel, along with Erma, often sewed clothes for Jack and made sure she had plenty of pretty dresses to wear. While living in Midland, Jack heard that Hazel’s son, David, was in need of a suit to wear to a high school function. He was upset he had no money to buy one, and Jack immediately sent him $20.00 to purchase a new suit. That was the way Jack was. She always took care of the ones she loved and was generous to anyone in need, especially her family. Another story Jack told was about the one Christmas she saved up enough money to buy her dad a new Stetson hat. He was so proud of that fancy hat, he always took such good care of it, and he looked so distinguished when wearing it. One day Charlie asked her dad if he could borrow the hat for a funeral, and her dad really didn’t want to lend it but reluctantly did. Charlie took great care of it, returning it in excellent condition, and her dad was greatly relieved. It made Jack so happy to know how much her dad loved his Stetson hat.

She also loved her “baby brother,” Bob, who she said was “her own little doll.” Jack loved to tell a story about when Bob was around seven years old; he was playing with his and Jack’s niece, Vernell, and nephew, Nealvern. Jack often watched the three, and she said that they were usually good, but this time they tested her when she corrected them. They took off running from her, and she caught each one of them, and they took a big scolding. They couldn’t believe how fast she could run, and Dale also found out he better not taunt her, as Jack could throw and curve a rock around a building and hit him almost every time. Later on in her life, Bob always joked, “Sis, you better hope that Dale, Marcia, Billie Jo, and I make it home from our square dance trips since you will inherit the guardianship of our four girls if something happens to us.” Jack would teasingly snap back, “Y’all better go in separate cars; I’ll kill you both! What would I do with four girls!” When Jack could no longer live at home alone at 103, she moved to Ft. Worth to assisted living to be near Bob, as he was in a nursing home there. Jack was always there for Bob, especially after his wife, Billie Jo, died so young. He was always there for her, too, when she needed him. Bob and Dale would do most of the repairs and things for Jack and TK at their lake home. They didn’t believe in buying new things to fix something. First, they had to try and use something they already had, usually from their junk, and they could always make it work. Jack would beg them to just buy the part, but it fell on deaf ears. Jack would always say, “Those two can do anything, just like Dad!” But, when Bob did buy something new for her, it was always the biggest and the best he could find, even when he had to cut the cabinets (ones he made) in half over a new refrigerator to make it fit! Jack didn’t even watch; she argued while they were doing it, gave up, and enjoyed the new refrigerator with the cabinets cut in half above it.

Christmases at the Harbison’s were very special. Her mother made sure there were two Christmas trees, one for the adults and one for the kids. The men and kids hunted for the perfect cedar trees in the woods, and the whole family decorated them together. This tradition continued until her parents passed away, and the family grew and spread too far apart. Christmas was filled with food, family, and fun. All the family came together then, which was her mother’s favorite time of the year. Also, the whole extended family loved to camp together at the river that bordered their property with their friends and neighbors, especially on the Fourth of July. There was always BBQ, plenty of sides, swimming, fishing, and games. Ages ranged from young to old; desserts were everywhere; those Harbisons really loved their sweets! Jack would laugh at her brothers as they picked up the cakes to see how heavy each one was. They wanted pieces from the heavy ones because that meant they were moist, calling the light, airy ones “wasp nests!” She always said, “It was a good thing both their wives were such good cooks.”

Her family was ahead of their time; her dad made sure her mother had all the modern conveniences that no one else had yet. They had running water and toilets in the house. Her mother didn’t have to wash clothes at the river with big pots like the neighbors, and her father could make or do anything. He was a farmer, rancher, and blacksmith. Making toys, seesaws, merry-go-rounds, and swings for the kids, they always had things to play on. He even taught her mother how to cook, as she was just 17 when they married and had not yet learned to cook. Jack’s mom never had to work hard growing up. Jack’s grandmother allowed no one in her kitchen, and she did most of the work. But, Jack’s amazing mother turned out to be a wonderful cook, not a lazy bone in her body, as she was always gardening, sewing, quilting, cooking, canning, or doing something. Jack would always get tickled when her Uncle Mal drove up and said, “Em, you want to go fishing?” Her mother would say, “Wait a minute, let me get my bonnet.” Off they would go, and she said her dad never minded because he knew how much she loved to fish. Jack said when the thrashers came to thrash the grain for them and the neighbors, they would always plan to be at their house for lunch, as they wanted Mrs. Harbison’s cooking. Jack said,” Her Mom always had them a meal fit for a king.” Jack’s parents produced their own meat, vegetables, dairy, and fruit. Her mother raised chickens, and they had a pecan orchard on the river. Jack never would eat chicken; she said that she “couldn’t eat the poor things, after having to wring their necks!” Growing up, her family always had plenty of food and often helped and shared it with their extended family and neighbors.

One Christmas, things were hard, and her sister, Erma, fixed up Jack’s old doll and made it a new wardrobe. She also made Jack a set of dishes out of tin cans, carefully forming each plate and cup. Jack said Erma could do anything, and she was the kindest person she had ever known. Jack often said, “She wished she still had those dishes; they were works of art.” Shortly after Christmas, Jack put the doll away in a closet and dressed her cat in the clothes: a bonnet, two socks, and she even cut a hole for the cat’s tail. She said she always worried about which of the cat’s feet she should put the two socks on. The cat was the only animal ever allowed in her mother’s house, even letting Jack sleep with the cat. Jack was afraid Erma would get upset that she preferred the cat over the doll, but Jack said, “Erma never said a word.” In the summer, Jack loved playing with her cat in the cool cellar where the food was stored, and during the winter, there was a big fireplace burning to keep them warm. Jack was very close to her sister, Vara, and always spoke about going to visit her in Odessa, which at that time was a tent city with a fast, booming oil industry and oil fields. Vara’s family lived in a tent, and Jack loved to go there. She said once when Vara was sick, she went to stay and help Vara with her chores and her four daughters. She recalled Vara was so glad to see her walk in that day. Jack was always happy to help Vara and especially enjoyed taking her four nieces to the movies. When Jack started working in Midland, she and Vara would often go shopping for patterns and fabric and could stay in the store for hours, having so much fun. Jack also told of how she and Vara loved to window shop for hours, never buying anything, just walking, talking, and laughing.

Jack was especially proud of the new gold wedding bands she gave her parents one Christmas. She saved money for them and made payments on them that whole year. When her parents opened their gifts at Christmas, her mom put the ring on her finger and turned her head, hiding the tears in her eyes. Her dad pulled off his “wire” ring he had made and slipped the new ring on his finger, and she said, “He laughed the funniest laugh.” They never took them off afterward, and it made her so happy they loved them so much. She couldn’t believe she had found the perfect gifts for them. Jack always doted on her mother, knowing how she loved nice clothes but never had the extra money to buy nice things for herself. She bought her mom a beautiful, tailored suit, heels, and a matching bag, which thrilled her! Jack was so happy to see her mom glowing, and she said her mom could wear clothes so well. Jack adored her mother and father, recalling one time when her mother started wondering why the cows weren’t producing much milk? Jack laughed about watching her Dad milk the cows, squirting milk in the barn cats’ mouths, as they lined up along the top of the fence.

Jack graduated two years early from high school with her brother, Dale, because her class only had one other student in 1932. She attended the College of Industrial Arts, now Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas. She graduated with degrees in political science and business. She loved school, especially college, and gave credit to her favorite professor, Dr. Judd, for her love of history. She was always an excellent student and excelled in her business classes. After College, Jack taught 5th grade for two years, although she soon realized her future was in business. She moved to Midland, Texas, and worked in the oil industry as secretary to the CEO at Mid Continent Oil Supply Company for the Ken Davis Group, where she was an ace at shorthand and typing. She loved working for the oil industry, and she enjoyed dealing with companies and people from all over the world. Jack was a favorite among her coworkers, and probably the only time she ever bragged was when talking about her secretarial skills; all the men would ask her to write their letters, although they had their own secretaries. She always wrote their letters; she enjoyed being complimented on the wonderful letters she turned out. What an amazing asset she was to her company.

Jack shared a large frame house in Midland with her cousin, TK. They lived in Midland while they worked and retired together in Breckenridge at Hubbard Creek Lake in a beautiful home Dale built for them. Later they moved their old home from Midland, adding it on to their new one. They loved to renovate and decorate their homes. While in Midland and at Breckenridge, Jack and TK hosted large parties for their coworkers, clubs, friends, and family. Jack and TK were excellent cooks and were known for their fabulous parties. Everyone raved about their food. Her family always longed for her fudge, especially her sour cream fudge (her own recipe), and her rum cake was always a family favorite. Jack always talked about how much fun she and TK had, how they laughed together, and what a wonderful, happy life they had. A favorite story she loved to tell about TK was when one day Jack came home and saw TK running, trying to keep up with the lawnmower, her bonnet flying behind her back, face red, and she was out of breath. Jack ran to TK and asked, “What in the world are you doing?” TK replied, “This thing isn’t any good; it goes too fast!” Jack laughed and said, “TK, just turn the speed down!” TK didn’t think it was funny, and after that, Jack took over most of the yard work and all of the mowing. Their yard was always manicured and maintained by Jack and landscaped with beautiful rockwork and plants.

She was also a talented seamstress, as she took tailoring from Perry Como’s tailor. She made all her beautiful suits for work, and everyone always raved about her clothes. She was always dressed perfectly for work, in tailored suits, heels, and jewelry, and carried herself with such grace, poise, and confidence. Jack also loved quilting and embroidery, drawing butterflies, flowers, and things by freehand on the quilt and painting them in thread. Her quilts were gorgeous and unique; all were works of art. Jack also had a great love for all animals, and she owned many dogs and cats through the years. She even had a black cat and a fox living together under her house in Breckenridge. She fed other animals every evening. Open her side door at night, and you would see dozens of gleaming eyes waiting for food… possums, foxes, bobcats, raccoons, skunks, stray dogs, and cats! All animals were welcomed, and they all trusted her.

She read 2-3 newspapers a day and watched her FOX news on TV, even during her last years. She attributed her long, healthy life to eating breakfast every morning and having a good attitude. She would also add, “I just lived an honest, clean life.” Jack just loved life, and she lived every minute of it, spreading her cheerfulness and joy to all. And what a colorful life she led, even in her 100s! She enjoyed watching the feeders outside for birds and squirrels in her last years, just like her dad did. She talked about how he made houses for the wrens out of tin cans and fed his cardinals pecans. “They trusted him so much they would almost land on his shoulder; the cardinals would gather around his feet waiting for pecans,” she said. She loved telling her stories as much as her family loved hearing them. What a gift she gave them!

Jack had a fantastic outlook regarding growing old. “There is nothing I can do about it; I just take what comes my way. I had a wonderful life!” She was full of wit and had the best sense of humor, as she loved telling her old stories and repeated them to us often. She was an amazing lady and a delight to everyone that knew her. She cherished her family and doted on them, being such an inspiration to them all. She had a habit, while in her 100s, of flopping down in her chair, feet straight up in the air, exclaiming, “I have just cratered!” Then she would ask, “Now, tell me something interesting, and I want to know something new.” All her attention was focused on her guest. How blessed we were to hear her favorite recollections, usually from long ago, and all the treasured memories she left with us. There are no words to express how much she will be missed, but we all know that we now have a special angel in heaven. Jack was everything that was good; she had the secret to life.

Miss Harbison was preceded in death by her parents, A.N. and Emily Harbison; sisters, Hazel Sullivan, Erma Tubbs, and Vara Tindall; brothers Dale Harbison and Bob Harbison; and her cousin, TK White. She is survived by her nieces, Jean Alread, Jill Mahan, Nece Miller, Rhonda Hurtik, and Pam Whitlock, along with numerous great-nieces, great-nephews, and cousins.

Memorial donations in Jack’s name can be made to the Clear Fork Cemetery Association and can be left at Melton-Kitchens Funeral Home. Condolences can be made online at

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